Martor No. 22 / Year 2017

Negotiating the Mountains. Foreign Immigration and Cultural Change in the Italian Alps

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Authors: Andrea Membretti and Pier Paolo Viazzo

About the authors:

Andrea Membretti
Assistant Professor of Sociology of the Territory, University of Pavia, Italy
E-mail: andrea.membretti at unipv dot it

Pier Paolo Viazzo
Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Turin, Italy
E-mail: paolo.viazzo at unito dot it

Pages: 93-107.

Keywords: Italian Alps; repopulation; foreign immigration; asylum-seekers; negotiation; cultural change; social innovation.


Severely affected during the twentieth century by depopulation and neglect, the Alps also suffered an erosion of their cultural heritage. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, population has begun to grow in many areas, mainly due to the settlement in the uplands of both “highlanders by choice” (largely youth dissatisfied with city life) and “highlanders by necessity” (economic migrants). In recent years, however, the Alps have been increasingly hosting also asylum-seekers and refugees (“highlanders by force”). This article concentrates on the Italian Alps and on the number and distribution of foreign migrants. It provides quantitative and qualitative data, also considering some specific local cases of immigration, and addresses the following questions: What are the effects of Alpine repopulation, and notably the impact of foreign inhabitants, on local cultures? Should repopulation be seen as an opportunity for social innovation and cultural creativity or rather as a threat to “indigenous” cultures? Is demographic discontinuity precluding cultural continuity? Will foreign immigration, especially if directed to demographically depleted areas, favour over time the emergence of new forms of identity and “tradition,” as a result of the re-invention of the territory? We argue that the “new peopling” of the Alps should not be considered a priori as a threat nor as an enrichment, and that the interactions and negotiations between the locals and the migrants should be studied in-depth and with attention to the local contexts.

How to cite this article: Membretti, Andrea, and Pier Paolo Viazzo. 2017. “Negotiating the Mountains. Foreign Immigration and Cultural Change in the Italian Alps.” Martor 22: 93-107.